Newborn babies do not have developed skills to manage their experiences. Babies can have a difficult time coping with their feelings, sensory experiences and energy level. At first, they also have very little experience of knowing which things lead to increasingly unpleasant sensations and how they then get better. Some babies find it extremely challenging to manage their energy level and calm down, while other babies are more skilled at this and may well fall asleep in their own bed when tired. Difficulties with stress management manifest as constant crying and restlessness or sometimes passiveness. The baby may be overwrought and may seem to resist sleep despite being tired. A passive and low-energy baby, on the other hand, may have to be enticed and persuaded to make contact with the parents. Difficulties with stress management may also look like stomach trouble to the parents, and the baby may seem pained. Sometimes, difficulties with stress management are in fact connected to digestion and nutrient absorption.
Stress management ability refers to the methods the baby uses to cope with stress. Things that cause babies stress include separation from the more actively caring parent, hunger or overtiredness.
Babies who have a hard time calming down need a parent there to help them. Stress management does not develop by lying on a play mat or by looking at a mobile on their own; a parent’s presence is required. The most effective ways to calm down a young baby are closeness and touch. Babies have a highly developed sense of touch, and it is their primary method of controlling their internal states, building connections and strengthening bonds with their parents. Familiar things from the time in the womb, such as closeness, small rocking movements and the safe boundaries of being held in arms, decrease the baby’s stress. Babies that struggle with stress management issues benefit from being held, lifted upright, carried around and gently hushed. The parent’s soothing, strong and rhythmic touch calms down the baby, whereas a fast, soft and tickling touch stimulates and energises the baby.
Children develop the ability to calm down by themselves later on. In fact, children who are allowed to develop their stress management skills together with a parent learn to trust that adults will help them in problem situations. Being able to rely on this sense of safety leaves babies more time and energy to explore the world and grow independent at their own pace.